There are more young people in the world than ever before, creating unprecedented potential for economic and social progress. Many of these are in developing countries such as Uganda where over 55% of its 41.6 million people are below the age of 18, and over 78% under the age of 30 – according to the 2012 State of Uganda population report by the UN Population Fund.
Whilst this young population would be a huge boost to economic development, it is a double-edged sword for Uganda where around 80% of these youth are unemployed (World Economic Forum, 2015) – with this rate suspected to be higher for university graduates living in urban areas (Uganda Bureau of Statistics, 2016). Yet still, over 500,000 youths continue to join this Ugandan labour market annually, often unprepared for today’s world of work.
Ironically, The Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM), which tracks entrepreneurship activity in 73 countries, ranked Uganda as the most entrepreneurial country in the world with the average entrepreneur in Uganda aged between 18-34 years of age. However, business discontinuation among youth-led business in Uganda is very high with GEM highlighting that Uganda has “an abundance of willing entrepreneurs held back by LIMITED SKILLS and a lack of support from the government” (GEM, 2014). GEM also highlights that most of Uganda’s small businesses are started out of desperation and necessity, with 62% of entrepreneurs citing, among other reasons, the entrepreneurial skills gap as the main reason for this high business closure.
Uganda is also failed by a colonial education system that has not moved with the times. The GEM report cites that “Uganda’s young people are under-educated and ill-equipped to manage commercial enterprises beyond the one-person start-up phase” (Namatovu & Dawa, 2013).
The absence of a robust and well-coordinated skills and enterprise ecosystem, particularly in Higher Education Institutions, has meant that Uganda has remained one of the poorest countries in the world.
This acute unemployment alone, poses serious security, political, economic and social challenges to the country’s leadership.
Yes, for most of these young folks, their potential is hindered by extreme poverty, poor government policy and sometimes lack of information. But with proper investment in their education and opportunities, these young people’s ideas, ideals and innovations could transform their future, and that of their country (UNESCO, 2018).